Another year, another Madden. Every year since its inception, the most popular football game in the world releases a new iteration of the franchise, much to the joy to the those who play it. With new rosters, a few tweaks and some visual improvements. This year is more of the same, with some welcome additions.
I’ve loved Madden for a long time, and the game used to be an every year, day one buy for me. I have vivid memories of standing outside of a gaming store to pick it up for a midnight release. Every year it was the same: pick it up at midnight, play a game with a friend, and then turn in, excited about the possibility of more. As time wore on, however, the game lost its luster and became a game that can be waited on. With only incremental progress, spending full price on a game I basically bought last year didn’t seem worth it. As unfortunate as it is, this year’s Madden has given me that same feeling.
Once per couple of generations, the developers will reinvent or create a feature that will elevate the game, such as the passing cone of Madden NFL ‘06, or even last year’s Longshot mode. The first-ever story mode was a breath of fresh air into a game that had lost its shine. Longshot is back this year, but as it seems to happen with Madden, it’s a step back for each step forward.
Let’s begin with Longshot, as it was the most highly touted feature of last year’s game. Devin Wade and Colt Cruise are back again, now each controllable on their journey back to the NFL. With the first Longshot, we were in control, with players making decisions, both on the field and off. All in an effort to help Devin make his name on the “Longshot” reality show. Each choice brought rewards or consequence, building Devin from a flamed out college star to a dark horse NFL player.
This year, however, the control has gone back to the game. Choices have been replaced with long, arduous cutscenes. The cast is star-studded, but watching them loses impact when that’s all that is done. After playing about a quarter of Longshot’s story, I had yet to make a single choice. And any in-story interaction that was accessible to me as a player seemed to not make much of a difference. A missed pass gave way to disappointment, but failure meant either retrying or moving on, without much consequence. What was a revelation in last year’s edition became a lot more watching, and much less playing. The story is much better this time around, but I turn on Madden to play football, not watch people talk about playing it.
Aside from the big step down in the story mode, Madden NFL ‘19 does what it does best: make incremental changes that improves the game. The graphics are better, the atmosphere is more realistic, and the locomotion is much better. They even included celebrations (though no kneeling, because of course not)! Running with the ball feels better, passing feels smoother, with more precise timing and additional ball placement. Moving on defense feels just as smooth as it ever has. The improvements on the mechanics front, such as more natural running locomotion, are impressive, making the game much more enjoyable.
The rest of the game, however, doesn’t have much else in the way of new features. With a few small updates to Franchise Mode and Ultimate team, players who dive into Madden each year should have something to latch onto. Adding customizable draft classes, a feature that fans have wanted for years and something other sports games (such as the NBA 2k series) have had for years is a welcome change. Another major adjustment comes to Ultimate Team, solo challenges and unlockable modes at certain levels. These kinds of additions are a great start in progressing the franchise.
As with most Madden games, though, it comes down to this: it’s good. That’s about it. EA knows what it’s doing, as their years of being the pinnacle of sports games has proven. But to be honest, nothing about this game made it a must buy. Nearly everything that was there in Madden NFL ‘18 is available in this version, some of it is worse (I’m looking at you, Longshot) and the improvements that were made are solid, but nothing to propel this game into a new stratosphere.
If you like Madden, then get it. It’s worth playing, it’s enjoyable, and for football fans, the closest thing many will get to ever seeing the field. As an experience, Madden is good, and Madden NFL ‘19 maintains that status quo. It won’t do much to tilt the needle for those who are only looking to get into the series now, but those familiar with it will find the exciting experience that has always been present.
The basics are all there, but as it can happen with games that release every year, things can get stale. Not failing to capitalize on the success of last year’s Longshot campaign really hurt this game in terms of enjoyment. The rest of the game is solid, but it needed something to push it over the edge. It just didn’t get it this year. It’s worth checking out for die-hard fans of the franchise, but it might be worth the wait for lapsed fans or those who don’t invest heavily on the gridiron.